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Catheter Ablation Risks

All procedures have risks. Catheter ablation risks include blood clots, strokes, blockage or perforation of the pulmonary veins or heart.

The first worldwide survey of catheter ablation found a high number of complications, at 6%.1 Since this data was from early catheter ablations, a higher rate of complications should be expected due to the "learning curve". It is entirely possible that more of the complications were attributable to early catheter ablations than to later ones.

In the second worldwide survey of catheter ablation, the overall major complications rate was lower, at 4.5%2 vs. 6% in the first survey. The rate of pulmonary vein stenosis, which is a significant narrowing of the pulmonary veins, was much reduced, likely due to the move away from ablating within the pulmonary veins and toward ablating just outside of them. Other major complications included cardiac tamponade, a dangerous fluid buildup around the heart, as well as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), stroke, and death. It is possible that many of these centers were new to catheter ablation and still in the learning curve. Hopefully, this complication rate will continue to decrease with future surveys.

Many of the newest catheter ablation tools and technologies are alleviating patient risks caused by the lack of direct vision of the heart and the radiation exposure from fluoroscopy during the procedure. To learn more, see Catheter Ablation Techniques or Catheter Ablation Technology.

To learn more about whether catheter ablation is appropriate for you, see Are You a Candidate for Catheter Ablation.

1 Cappato, Riccardo, MD, et al, "Worldwide Survey on the Methods, Efficacy, and Safety of Catheter Ablation for Human Atrial Fibrillation,", Circulation: 2005;111:1100-1105.

2 Cappato, Riccardo, MD, et al, "Updated Worldwide Survey on the Methods, Efficacy, and Safety of Catheter Ablation for Human Atrial Fibrillation,", Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, February 2010.

Last Modified 9/2/2011

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